#730
Avatarbbrowder
Moderator

Avery, this is a great question! You’ve touched on two pieces of technology that are key to lunar exploration: 1) in-situ resource utilization and 2) additive manufacturing, aka 3D printing.

In-situ resource utilization (ISRU) refers to the process of using materials that exist “in situ,” or at the site being explored. It takes a lot of resources to get to the Moon (or other celestial bodies), so long-term exploration will be easier if we’re able to use materials that already exist on the Moon, rather than having to bring everything from Earth. That’s why researchers are trying to figure out how to build things from moon dust!

Additive manufacturing (more commonly known as 3D printing) refers to the technology that involves building up layers of material using a printer to create a product. This is in contrast to traditional subtractive manufacturing, in which machinery removes material in order to create the final product. 3D printing will be key to sustainable exploration because it will allow us to send robots to the Moon to start building infrastructure such as habitats, so that they’ll already be set up by the time astronauts arrive. Once astronauts arrive, 3D printing will also allow them to create replacement parts out of raw material. This means that instead of having to bring multiple replacements for every critical part, we can fly a bunch of raw material to the Moon and then make parts only as needed. 3D printers have already been used in microgravity–the company Made in Space has two 3D printers on the International Space Station that are used to create tools for astronauts!

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